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President Trump renews attacks on voter rights

Christian Tyler Randolph/New York Times/File

PRESIDENT TRUMP IS AGAIN pushing for voter identification laws. This unsettling fact was lost in the wave of snark that followed Trump’s bizarre comment about shoppers needing a photo ID to buy groceries. As usual, that was a pointless distraction from Trump’s latest attempt to codify voter suppression.

“The time has come for voter ID like everything else,” said Trump earlier this month at yet another one of his rallies, this one in Florida. He claims identification at polling places can thwart voter fraud, despite no evidence that this problem exists outside of his own imagination.

His obsession with voter misconduct led to his now-defunct Presidential Commission on Election Integrity, established only a few months after Trump was sworn in as the 45th president. Without a shred of proof, Trump maintains that “millions of people” voted illegally for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.


Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, who served on the 11-member commission, said it gradually became apparent that he and his fellow commissioners were expected to accomplish only one thing — bolster Trump’s conspiracies.

“Even though the idea was to investigate voter fraud, it is pretty clear that the purpose of the commission was to actually affirm and validate the president’s claims whether or not we had any evidence of any such voter misconduct,” Dunlap told NPR.

That should have been the end of it. Yet the Trump administration remains intent on disenfranchising millions of voters by demanding voter ID laws.

Ever since the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision undercut federal oversight of state election laws, the Voting Rights Act has been under attack as never before. More than 30 states already have laws requiring voters to show some form of identification at polling places. Seven states specifically demand a photo ID; Alabama allows voters to forgo ID – so long as two elections officials know that person.


On the surface, ID laws seem innocuous enough. Yet research has shown that voter ID requirements have a disproportionately negative effect on voters of color — and given traditional voting patterns, that usually benefits Republican candidates. It should surprise no one that many states began considering voter ID laws after Barack Obama was elected this nation’s first black president, in 2008. Eight years later, black voter turnout was down 7 percent, and less than half of Hispanic and Asian voters went to the polls.

This country has a long ugly history of voter suppression; any barrier to voting should be met with
suspicion. For years, various states used literacy tests, poll taxes, and absurdities like asking a black person how many bubbles were contained in a bar of soap. When that wasn’t enough of a deterrent, racists used bullets and nooses.

Voting is yet another constitutional right for which this president shows no deference. As he has done throughout his presidency, Trump is again evoking America’s darkest chapters. In plain sight, he is trying to strip millions of one of the basic tenets of American citizenship.

No, a photo ID isn’t required to buy groceries; nor should it be necessary when we exercise our right to vote.